Finding My Advocate Within
Last week I was speaking with a father who has a deaf son and one of his questions was, “When did you learn to advocate for yourself?” I thought about that question and I was trying to think of that one moment where I was okay and confident in advocating for myself with my hearing loss. But, there was no one moment that stood out to me, rather it was a series of events that taught me important life lessons. Just like learning to play the piano, it takes time and practice. You have to learn the basics of the piano, how it works, what the keys are and what note they belong to. Once you get the basics, you start with simple music sheets and move forward as you practice more. The same goes for advocating for yourself. One of my favorite quotes is from a Japanese Proverb which says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.”
Just like practicing the piano, you are going to make mistakes. If you give up after the first few mistakes you will never know what you can achieve. Knowing that you might feel shy about advocating for yourself and feel like a fool when you try to speak up, it is important to make a goal to keep trying. Growing up my parents would often say to my siblings and me, “You can do hard things.” Here are a few things that I found helpful when I was finding my advocate within.
- Surround yourself with those who believe in you.
My journey to learning to advocate for myself all started when I was 13 years old in a simple room at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital where I was meeting my new Audiology Team. I called them the “Three J’s” as their names were Jamie, Janet, and Jerrica. These three impacted my life in many ways. I remember the first meeting where they did their normal testing and got my hearing back on track to where it needed to be. At the end, Jamie asked, “Have you ever thought about getting a second Cochlear Implant for the left ear?” At that moment, I knew I wanted to but she asked that I do my own research on it first and then let her know when I am ready to move forward. She gave me an assignment to decide what I wanted. I took it seriously and I did lots of research and learned so much. My parents supported me in whatever direction I wanted to go with. A few months went by and I told Jamie that I wanted to move forward. About a year after we started the process, and being denied by the insurance three times, I finally got the second implant. It was a team effort. After that, I became close with the Three J’s who then asked if I could help start up a support group for the teens with Cochlear Implants in the St. Louis area. Over the years, I developed confidence in myself as I worked on helping others. It was not an easy task for me. With practice and support from those around me, I began speaking at events and speaking with medical professionals. I learned so much about myself during those years and could not have done it without the Three J’s and my surgeon who motivated me to reach for my dreams. My family was also on the front lines cheering me on each step of the way.
- Have Faith.
In 2012, I left home, friends, and my great doctors / the Three J’s to go serve a two-year church mission in Salt Lake City Utah. The first six months were rough, hard and I almost gave up. I met some negative people and was constantly in unfamiliar places and meeting new people every day. Nothing was completely consistent. It brought some health challenges that required many hospital visits, a specialist to fly in to run some tests, and my parents to come to the final appointment which would have decided if I could stay or if I needed to return home. It was a bittersweet visit with all the specialists and my parents. While my parents were visiting me they reminded me that they believed in me and that I was to let God help what I did not have control of. From that moment on I handed over my situation to Him and believed that everything would be okay. I had faith.
- Joy in the Journey.
At the beginning of my mission, my Cochlear Implants started acting funny and it was a stressful day. So I called my mission mom, Mama Winn, to tell her what I experiencing. She did not answer, so I left a message. Later that day, she showed up with some cookies, a gallon of milk and a children's book. This simple act would eventually change the rest of my life. The book was titled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” inside the book Mama Winn asked me to write down all the Terrible, Horrible, No Good and Very Bad moments I had over the coming months. I accepted the challenge and when I had a hard moment that day, I would write about it at the end of the day. As I started writing about it I would begin to laugh at myself. Each week Mama Winn would write a life lesson in the weekly newsletter and they were often funny, awkward or embarrassing moments that happened in her lifetime. All of us looked forward to Mama Winn’s Life Lessons each week. Her example taught me to find joy in the journey. Today, I look back on the things I wrote in that simple children’s book and laugh.
Finding your advocate within is a journey and is not an overnight event. The key word is finding which is an ongoing event through this life. I am still working on improving my ability to advocate for myself and helping coach others along their journey. As we surround ourselves with those that believe in us, we get a spark of confidence to become who you want to be. The key is to keep having faith that everything will work out and to continually find joy in the journey.